Weekend Goal Achieved - Homemade Bread

I accomplished a satisfying goal this weekend. The goal itself has been on my TO DO list for a long time. Months...maybe years. I certainly should have attempted it sooner than this weekend. In retrospect, I am not sure what caused the resistance to doing it, but it's done now.

So, what was this goal? It will probably sound dumb to you. It was simply to bake a homemade loaf of bread in a breadmaker machine. I had always been told that it was easy...a "set it and forget it" kind of operation. My wife has a breadmaker machine. It has been sitting up in a cupboard at our house for ages. I'd even taken it down and examined it a couple times. I guess the main hurdle was that I had no idea how to operate the thing. User documentation was not to be found with the device when I first encountered it, perhaps lost in the quantum realm of wherever appliance manuals disappear to.

This weekend, I decided to overcome all obstacles and trepidations, and conquer the outstanding goal. I went online and asked the Giant Internet Brain (GIB) to provide me with a user manual and a recipe book for the particular make and model of breadmaker that my wife has (A Mr. Coffee Model #BMR200, if you care to know...). The GIB was only able to offer me a PDF of the BMR200 user manual, but the recipe book was not forthcoming. I then turned to some of the cookbooks in our kitchen.* One of the more popular ones had a section of common recipes for breadmaker-made breads. I chose to make a simple whole wheat loaf. I gathered the required ingredients** and put them into the business end of the breadmaker, while reading the obtained user guide to find the best settings for the particular recipe I was following. And it really was "set it and forget it," although there were some moments of anxiety, when the machine didn't appear to be doing anything (the bread dough itself, or more specifically, the yeast in the dough, does a considerable amount of the work of making a decent loaf of bread).

At the end of it all, I had an edible, albeit mediocre, loaf of wheat bread. Goal achieved!

However, I then set about repeating the challenge in an effort to improve on my initial attempt. The second run produced an even better loaf of simple white bread. Goal doubly achieved!

So, now I know how to make bread in a breadmaker, and it's super easy. Boom.

Subsequently, I was able to track down a massive cache of breadmaker recipes online, and who knows what kinds of breads I will experiment with going forward.

*Note: As it turns out, all breadmakers work about the same and any recipe designed for a breadmaker will do. It's more about the quantity of ingredients that matters [SOURCE].

**Note: I learned that there is a type of flour for making bread that is called, aptly enough, bread flour, and this required a quick trip to the store, because I did not have any. Bread flour is different from all-purpose flour, suggesting the latter flour has incorrect nomenclature, since all purposes would seem to cover the purpose of making bread. I may have to test this scientifically by seeing if I can make a decent bread using all-purpose flour rather than bread flour. But I did not want to bias my initial bread-making attempts by introducing unnecessary error.

Behavioral Activation

For the past few months, as part of my internship in marriage and family therapy, I have been co-facilitating a behavioral activation group at the community mental health facility I "work"* at.

What is behavioral activation? Let me give you an illustrative example.

Yesterday, I was in a foul mood. I don't know why. But the mood was interfering with my goal to get to the gym. I did not feel like going. At all. But I made myself get up off my lazy arse, put a gym bag together, and drive the half mile or so to the gym.

That's behavioral activation in a nutshell. It is essentially following a plan of action (doing) rather than letting a mood dictate behavior. In fact, that's one of the mantras of behavioral activation - "Follow the plan, not the mood" - and why it is a very effective approach for treating mood disorders, especially depression. With these disorders, people tend to get into downward spirals. The depression makes them not motivated to do things and the lack of doing things exacerbates the depressive mood and low self-esteem, and so on and so forth. Not always...I am not trying to generalize, I must be careful to say. Behavioral activation works for some people, but not all.

So a lot of behavioral activation's interventions have to do with establishing SMART** goals, setting schedules, removing obstacles, and emphasizing important values.

When I got to the gym yesterday, I also didn't feel like following my usual action plan of sit-ups, weight lifting, and aerobic exercise. All I really wanted to do was go soak in the gym's hot tub. Again, I told myself to follow the plan, even if I did it in a half-assed way. What ended up happening is that once I started doing the regimen, I did it just as thoroughly as I normally would have. And the hot tub proved to be a nice reward at the end.

I am actually transferring out of the behavioral activation group at "work."* Next week, I will be joining a self-esteem group that I'm quite excited to co-facilitate. I am sure I will have things to share about boosting self-esteem here in the future, so stay tuned.

*Note: An internship is just like working a part-time job, but it's unpaid. This is not particularly fair or just, because it is a form of free labor for mental health organizations that host internships, but it is the convention in my chosen field of marriage and family therapy that future therapists do 9-12 months of unpaid internship to ready them to be professionals. Many organizations would probably refuse to host interns if they had to pay them (at least that is the conventional wisdom). The exception to this is internships at prisons, which are often paid. I guess the logic there is that not many people would volunteer at a prison if they have other options. I don't usually tell my clients that I am an unpaid therapist, but I also don't withhold it if they ask. When they find out, many of them are surprised and tell me that I deserve to be paid. I take this to mean that they think I am doing a good job, so in a way, I am being paid in warm feelings and client gratitude, which is OK...though I prefer CASH. I did not get into this field for the money, but rather to help people in need of mental health care.

**Note: SMART = Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound


Real Cold

When Deborah and I were in Florida last week, I teased people there in a jocular way who complained about how cold it was in January...in the low 60s. It's -17 degrees in Wiscosnin right now without the wind chill and it's supposed to stay that way for at least a week. Wind chills are expected to hit -55 next week. I hate winter.

While everyone is arguing about expensive walls to keep people from tropical places from coming north, we are missing an opportunity to build infrastructure to send people from wintry places south inexpensively. No one should have to suffer this kind of bone numbing cold. It's immoral.


A Snow Day

We got a bunch of snow this morning. It ended by noon and it wasn't all that extreme, but everyone freaked out and schools and some businesses got closed. I was supposed to start my final semester of graduate school classes today, but I got a respite when Edgewood College called off everything, except for bare essentials, like cafeterias and dormitories for on-campus students. I didn't mind having a self care day and I got to spend some time with my awesome, beautiful wife. I also completed my Doctorate in Leisure Studies from the Abide University, a private Dudeist college online. I should get my diploma in the mail soon.


Monday the 21st of January 2019

Against all odds, I achieved a lot today. I conquered today, in fact.

This morning we got groceries in a 21 century manner: online ordering and delivery for a nominal fee. We didn't even have to leave the house. Although the ability to do this via Smartphone spells the downfall of humanity in the long term, the short term instant gratification balanced it out (that may be why the service, via Whole Foods, is called Amazon Now). It's a game changer that basically granted me an extra hour or so of time I did not have to spend at a grocery store dealing with undesirable people (aka, people). We got some good stuff too.

I did some writing in the afternoon, per my belated new year's resolution. However, I spent a lot of time quality controlling my three rock-n-roll related websites. I succeeded, as far as I can tell. If you find a broken link or other issue on any of my sites, please let me know so I can fix it. I am satisfied with the results for now. Until I am not.

In the course of all this busy work, I'll be darned (like socks) if I didn't just go right ahead and buy a new website URL on the cheap: www.punkrocklifecoach.com. It may come in handy when I am a full fledged family therapist (in training), after graduating this coming May. The URL currently forwards and masks to my health and wellness blog. That is just a placeholder until I launch an official site.

For my dinner tonight, I ate some of the microwaveable vegan pad thai that was obtained via the mostly effortless, modestly pricey, online grocery shopping this morning. It was actually pretty good.

I'm sleepy. Bye for now!


A Belated New Years Resolution

I did not have much need for resolutions at the start of this new year, mainly because the ones I set about adhering to last year were still in play and going strong. I'm usually not very good at establishing resolutions prior to the start of a new year, mainly due to having my mind focused on other demands. And this distraction usually continues for several days into the new year, with no resolutions in sight.

If you'll recall, last year's resolution was to follow a vegan diet for health reasons. I did it and I am still doing it. I had thought following this diet would have a secondary indirect benefit of decreasing my body weight. That was partly true, but I plateaued (wow, that is a lot of adjacent vowels) about mid-year and couldn't get my weight below about 215 pounds consistently after that. So, in early October, I established what I guess we would have to call an "old year resolution." A one-off, if you will. I started using a fitness app to strategically track caloric intake and output with a goal of losing more weight. It worked, and by year's end, I was down below 200 pounds consistently. Blah, blah, blah.

The point being, I rocked my 2018 resolutions and I couldn't really find the time to think about 2019 resolutions. Last week, I was able to rest my mind and body on a trip to Florida, during which time I began to give more mental bandwidth to some ideas for resolutions to pursue in 2019. After writing a blog post that featured Stephen King in a cameo role, I decided that I'd like to resolve to do more writing - for its own sake, but also indirectly to try to finish work on the first draft of my science fiction novel. I have not fleshed out the specifics of this resolution, only the generality: to write more. If I am using Stephen King as a role model (and I am, because his non-fiction book on the art of writing is most salient to me), I'd like to carve out a specific time and place to write a few times a week. I really enjoy writing, but with the demands of graduate school and life in general, it's hard to do it seriously and regularly. I tend to write a few blog posts here and there, as time permits, to keep the writing machinery oiled and functional in my brain, and that certainly serves its purpose. However, much like daily meditation, I want to establish a schedule and flow to it. Based on all the research I have read on the best ways to write, pounding it out for a solid 3-4 hours without interruption seems to be the general consensus, with strong recommendations to cease all writing activity after 4 hours, due to the very low return on investment from wrung out writing neurons after that point.

So we'll see what happens. Today is Sunday and I have already been writing for close to 4 hours, mostly blog posts, but also a little bit of sci-fi novel outlining and revision of stuff I have already written for it over the past few years. So, I need to stop soon, in no small measure due to the fact that I have to learn a metric pantload of songs on bass guitar for a jam session at a pub later tonight, and I haven't rehearsed any of the material on account of being on a tropical vacation for the past week. Tomorrow is Monday, but it's also a holiday, so my intent is to pound out some writing tomorrow as well, and jump start this belated new years resolution.

Tropical Vacay Day 8 - The Thrilling But Mostly Chilling Conclusion

Soon after takeoff, the plane that Deborah and I were on played chicken with a flock of brown pelicans, which we had learned during our nature kayaking excursion three days prior are considerably heavier birds than their white cousins in the Avian world. There were no winners. Many of the pelicans were shredded to feathery mincemeat as they were sucked into the jet engines of the Boeing 737. Said jet engines subsequently exploded and the plane plummeted toward the Caribbean Sea. At that point my senses were neutralized by a cabin full of thick smoke and the collective screams of the passengers around us. I don't know how we alone survived, because I must have lost consciousness for a time, perhaps due to a sudden loss of breathable air. When I awoke, I was still seated next to Deborah and she next to roughly one half (the lower half) of the woman who had been sitting by the window. However, our seats were no longer seated inside the airplane. They were resting, remarkably upright, on a palm tree lined beach of white sand. Gentle waves lapped the shore about 30 feet away and warm sunshine bathed my face and head. My regaining consciousness startled the handful of seagulls that were using their beaks to pull shreds of intestine from the exposed body cavity of the half-passenger beside Deborah. They screeched* and took wing, circling above us. I leaned toward Deborah and assessed her condition. Her head was rolled forward and I could hear raspy breaths that indicated she was alive. This was confirmed by the slow rising and falling of her chest. "Deborah!" I shouted, tapping her on the knee. She sat bolt upright, sucking in breath sharply and looking around with a look I had seen many times after she woke from a deep slumber. After a few seconds her eyes settled on my face and she said, "What happened? Where are we?" "Don't look to your right," I said. Of course, she did. "Oh God!" she screamed leaning hard into me to distance herself from the partial corpse beside her. That's when I felt the sharp pain in my ribs and gasped. "What's wrong?" she said, her concern for me overriding her disgust at the gull-saliva soaked human innards slowly drying in the sun beside her. "Might have broken ribs..." I partly moaned, partly hissed. Deborah fumbled with the seatbelt that was still holding her into her seat and unbuckled it. She leapt forward and fell to her hands and knees in the sand. "Fuck!" she cursed. "You OK?" I asked, chest pain receding enough for me to speak audibly. "I think so," she said. "Foot is killing me, but I think it's normal." "I might need help out of this chair," I said, unbuckling my seatbelt as well. Deborah stood up and stumbled toward me. "Get on my left side," I requested, after lifting my left arm over my head and determining that motion did not cause any pain to the left side of my body...

...is the beginning of the story I'd like to be able to tell you about Deborah's and my trip home from Florida. But the reality is far more mundane.

Deborah and I got up on either side of 7 AM, respectively. While she washed her face and dressed, I made coffee in the Keurig in the kitchen and food processed us both a couple of the frozen fruit smoothies that would power us for most of the morning. Deborah's family was milling about and we chatted about this and that, most notably their apparently defunct dishwasher. Deborah soon joined the fray and we gathered ourselves for the inevitable farewells. After hugging it out, we left Chez Goldberg for the last time this trip about 7:50 AM and drove the rental car over to the Carlisle Hotel about five minutes away to pick up my parents, before driving to the airport in Tampa FL.

Joe and Deborah Poolin' Around

Other than keeping our distance from several aggressive drivers on the highway, the drive up to Tampa was smooth. It took a bit of doing to find a gas station near the airport at which to top off the rental car's gas tank and thus avoid the ridiculous refilling fee the car's vendor would otherwise charge us. But we found a Seven-Eleven that met the need for both filling the gas tank and emptying my Keurig coffee-bloated bladder. As noted in yesterday's post, my parent's destination of Cleveland OH was hard into the middle to a brutal winter storm. But as of the time we pulled up to the curb at the airport's departure terminal, their flight was still showing ON TIME on the Spirit Airlines website. So Plan A devised the night before was executed. Deborah, my mom, and I hauled all our respective baggage into the airport, while my dad took the rental car back to Alamo. That was the only driving he actually had to do during this entire trip, because I had been the chauffeur for the family all week (which was perfectly OK). Deborah and I were going back to Madison WI on Sun Country Airlines, an outfit that has only recently been offering low-cost, non-stop flights between Madison and Tampa, and their ticketing and check-in desk was right next to that of Spirit Airlines, on whose plane my folks would hypothetically be going back to Ohio. Since Deborah and I had an earlier flight and my mom needed to wait for my dad to return from the rental car lot, we got my mom situated in a seat near the check-in counter and bid her safe travels, post-hugs.

Mom and Pops

We checked our suitcases and were expedited through TSA security thanks to Deborah's legitimate** request for a wheelchair. The only hitch was when some old chap in the security line decided to usurp Deborah's wheelchair...but Deborah would have none of it and assertively reclaimed her right to it. It was whilst we were waiting at our gate to board the plane to Madison that I checked the status of my folks' flight and saw that it was marked CANCELED. I called my mom and let her know. My dad had returned from returning the rental car, but they had not yet checked in for their flight, so they were able to troubleshoot. More on this below. The wheelchair we had also got us onto the plane before everyone else, so we could get comfortably situated in our seats before the masses boarded and jammed up the aisles with people trying to fit oversized carry-on bags into the overhead compartments.

Joe and Deborah Having Sun Fun

A family with three young kids who had also been on our flight to Tampa the previous Saturday were seated behind us. They seemed like generally good people. However, one of their rugrats decided to turn our seat backs into chair massagers by repeatedly kicking them, until Deborah pleaded with the father to reign in the kid's twitchy limbs. Other than that, the flight was uneventful. There was a decent amount of turbulence over Lake Michigan, probably due to the winter storms pounding their "lake effect" snow into Trump-Belt cities in Michigan and Indiana (#GHT). But knowing that the inside of a flying airplane is statistically LITERALLY the safest place on the planet, and observing that the flight crew seemed quite at ease while the plane was buffeted around, I wasn't too phased and was able to keep working on my blog post referencing Stephen King, the horror novel author, and his fictional cameos in my life. In so doing, I hatched a belated New Year's Resolution, which I'll share in a different post.

Mom Enjoying Her Birthday Cake as Pops Looks On

Landing in Madison, I turned on my phone and turned off Airplane Mode to discover a voice message from my mom. Unbelievably, they had been able to get on a later afternoon flight to Cleveland, even though said city was still being gut punched by a blizzard. I had kind of hoped they would overnight in Tampa and fly out the next day. Deborah and I were picked up at the airport by her sister Julie and we treated her to pizza for her altruism. We then collected our dog Maddie from Deborah's son's house, where she had been staying during our trip, and went home to relax and avoid the arctic weather we had, unfortunately, returned to. My mom called later in the evening to report they had not only made it into Cleveland, but had also braved a 40 mile cab ride in near white out conditions to make it back to their home in Akron OH. I probably would have preferred the bliss of ignorance rather than knowing of the risk they took. I was surprised they had not erred on the side of caution and either stayed in Tampa an extra night or rode out the winter storm at a Cleveland airport hotel until roads were clear enough to travel safely. 40 miles! God bless the cab driver...

"Gardening" With Mom and Pops

Anyway, there was no cannibalism on our trip home. Even had the fictional plane crash described early in this post been non-fictional, cannibalism is too strong of a word for what our hero and heroine actually ate. They used the innards of their eviscerated seat mate as bait to capture seagulls (aka, sea rats), which they plucked, cooked, and ate. One could argue that the seagulls had eaten human flesh and thus our fictional alter egos indirectly ate human flesh. But that's kind of like saying that you are eating grass when you consume a slab of "grass fed" steak. Conversely, when you eat a conventionally produced steak, you are consuming a form of C4 carbon molecule derived from the corn that is fed to the steers. It's a fine line. Pigs eat all kinds of things and they are biologically the closest thing to humans of all the agriculturally produced livestock. They are also more intelligent than dogs, and most people don't want to eat dogs, but they will eat pigs. It's messy. So the non-fictional Joe and Deborah try to eat vegan as much as possible to avoid these kind of dissonant cognitive conundrums.


*Note: "Screeched" is one of at least two words that have the distinction of being the longest one-syllable words in the English language. The other is "scratched." They are nine letters long, if you want to skip the work of counting yourself.

**Note: I'm not saying, I'm just saying...if you are ever late for a flight and airport security is overrun by those people who fail to take their iPads out of their carry-on bags, slowing everything down, request a wheelchair. It gets you to the front of the security line and it has the added perk of allowing you to board the plane first too. Many headaches are avoided by the use of a wheelchair. Ethically, I would not worry about denying a needier person a wheelchair. The airport always has bazillions of wheelchairs and even people to push them, if you are flying solo. If you are flying with other people, only one wheelchair gets all of you through the sh!ttier aspects of air travel. By law, the airlines cannot ask you to provide proof of a handicap, and if I am being totally honest, air travel headaches ARE a form of handicap in some cases.



A 'Gator and a Bird


Tropical Vacay Day 7 - Gardening

We hit the gardens in the morning. By we, I mean my parents and me. Deborah opted to catch a few more winks in the guest room. But first, I drank coffee and cooked myself a hearty breakfast of crispy chickenless vegan burgers at Chez Goldberg. Only then did I cruise over to my folks' hotel in the rental car to pick them up and drive them downtown to the Selby Botanical Gardens. My timing was off, because the gardens opened at 10 AM, unbeknownst to me, and we arrived there about 9:45 AM. On the bright side, we found a great place to park before the lot got crowded.

We only had about 40 minutes in the gardens proper, inasmuch as we needed to get back to Chez Goldberg by about 11 AM for lunch with a visiting relative of Deborah's dad. But we got to see the orchid display in that brief window of opportunity at Selby. So, my expectations were fully met. Life lesson: Don't let perfection be the enemy of the pretty good. Setting realistic expectations increases the perceived awesomeness of any situation. Truth be told, I didn't even know there was an orchid display. My actual metric for the garden outing was simply to find decent parking and mill about amongst the groovy tropical flora for a spell. So my expectations were actually exceeded by the orchids. Plus, my mom and pops got some exercise as we mosied around the Selby property, which was far too expansive to cover in its entirety in the time allotted.

The luncheonette at Chez Goldberg was pleasant. The spread was modest, comprising vegan chili, bread, grapes, corn chips, olives, and salad. It was very tapas-esque. My meal emphasized the chili and chips. However, I made a culinary discovery. Honey mustard spread on a slice of decent bread is standalone delicious, without anything else added.

Deborah and I wanted to get a bit more sunshine exposure on the trip before we left Florida the following day to head back to what the weather app on my phone indicated was a subarctic brutality. With that objective in mind, we made our way over to my parent's hotel and spent the bulk of the rest of the afternoon poolside, slathered in SPF-50 sunscreen. It was ridiculously refreshing. My mom napped most of the time we were at the pool, but my dad joined us for a little while. The sky was 95% cloud free, so the solar rays were flowing down from space at near full throttle. By the same token, the temperature was in the low 70s Fahrenheit, offsetting the radiant heat of the sun almost perfectly. Eventually, the sun sank so low in the sky that there was little useful vitamin D left in its rays, and the temperature began to drop. We took that as our cue to wrap up our afternoon of sun worship. Deborah called her family from poolside and they collectively hatched a fully formed dinner plan, which I subsequently mutated slightly, as you'll see below.

I took a quick shower in my folks' hotel room whilst they gathered themselves for our dinner outing. We were going to a very vegan friendly restaurant about 30 minutes southwest of our current location, and not far from where horror fiction author Stephen King's 6 million dollar home is located. Unbeknownst to me was that Deborah's sister-in-law had made a reservation for a particular, and probably realistically achievable, time. Beknownst to me, however, was that my mom wanted to go to Target to buy a warm sweatshirt or hoodie ahead of their imminent return to Cleveland, also ridiculously blizzardy according to the Weather Bug app, on the morrow. Minor miscommunication ensued, but suffice to say, the reservation time was pushed back and my mom not only acquired a new sweatshirt, but also a new hat and scarf, largely thanks to Deborah expediting the vestments acquisition mission to Target.

The aforementioned restaurant was called the Evergreen Cafe. Let me start my description of the dining experience by saying there was no cameo appearance by Stephen King. Since I had realistically set my Expectation-o-Meter for Stephen King sightings at "Zero chance," this outing can be marked Satisfactory. That being said, I admire Stephen King both professionally and politically, and, inasmuch as I am an amateur creative writer (which is to say minimally), had we crossed paths, I would have asked him to join me in a selfie, even though my ego largely frowns on gratuitous selfie taking with celebrities. The amateur writer in me also frowns on run on sentences like that last one, and so I hope Stephen King never reads this post. Or if he does, that he at least keeps reading until this line, where I say, "I am sorry, Mr. King...but if you are reading, please leave a comment below this post and regrets that I did not see you at supper tonight!"

Moving on. As a vegan, I often have the experience that many vegans have, of going to a conventional restaurant and trying to either: 1. Find a tolerable vegan option on the menu (usually a nutritionally-devoid garden salad), 2. Adapt a traditionally non-vegan food option to be vegan ("Hold the cheese!"), or 3. Hobble together enough vegan side dishes to form a sufficient meal (literally a "piecemeal"). So, it was kind of kickass to go to a restaurant that flips this mentality on its head. The Evergreen Cafe caters to vegans and vegetarians, with 80% of its menu options falling into these gustatory categories. However, it is "omnivore friendly," offering fish, lamb, chicken, and even (albeit "grass fed") beef dishes on a small section of its 4-fold menu. We had three omnivores in our party of eight, and all were accommodated amply, with the exception that my dad ordered tuna on his salad, not realizing it was seared tuna (put on a hot grill for about 10 seconds to nuke any potential pathogens on the outside of the meat, but pretty much raw fish internally). My dad abhors raw fish. Luckily, my mom had ordered salmon - fully cooked - on her salad, and she is partial to fish at any level of cookedness. So, they simply traded slabs of sea meat and all was well.

I mean, Stephen King may very well have been at the restaurant, inside, but we were all sitting outside on the patio (warmed by propane heaters). I want to make believe this was so...

Fed, we departed the restaurant, after my folks bid Deborah's family farewell, because they would not be seeing them again before our departure back to frosty climes in the morning. We returned my folks to their hotel, solidifying morning travel logistics as we did so. The known knowns of our pending travel were as follows:

1. A blizzard had been pounding its way across the midwest for the better part of the past two days.

2. The snowy weather was forecast to be past Deborah's and my destination of Madison WI by Saturday morning, well in advance of our scheduled arrival there in the early afternoon.

3. The snowy weather was forecast to be fully pummeling my parents' destination of Cleveland OH by Saturday afternoon, corresponding with their scheduled arrival there.

Bullet 3 was the wild card, inasmuch as it could predict what we ultimately did with the rental car we had. Deborah and I did not think it likely that our flight would be canceled due to sh!tty-arsed winter weather. However, it seemed pretty much guaranteed that my parents' flight was not going to make it to Cleveland, no way, no how, just based on a common sense assessment of credible weather reports. They might need the rental car for another day or so. Notwithstanding, as of the time we dropped my folks at their hotel at the end of the evening, the status of their flight was still ON TIME, per the Spirit Airlines website. So the plan was to leave Sarasota about 8 AM for the hour drive to Tampa, where we would (after filling the rental car with gas) drop me, my mom, and Deborah at the departures terminal whilst my dad returned the rental car to Alamo. Deborah and I would get my mom and her associated bags situated near the Spirit Airlines check-in desk before we checked ourselves in with Sun Country Airlines (our carrier), which was - spoiler alert - fortuitously adjacent to Spirit at the airport.

Tune in for tomorrow's post and the thrilling, CHILLING, conclusion of our tropical vacay adventure. Will the rental car hold out long enough to ferry the Leonard family to Tampa? Will they find a gas station near the airport in order to top off the car's tank and avoid the exorbitant refill fee charged by the rental car vendor? Will Joe and Deborah survive the turbulent flight across frozen Lake Michigan en route to Madison? Or will they be forced to violate their vegan diet by consuming the charred remains of their fellow passengers after their plan crashes near a small, deserted Caribbean island shortly after take-off from Tampa. Will Mom and Pops Leonard make it to snowbound Cleveland? And if they do, will they be stranded there for days? Same phat time, same phat channel.


Tropical Vacay Day 6 - Gators and Energy

Early morning. But that's all relative on vacation. When you are used to sleeping in until 9 or 10 AM most mornings, 7 AM can seem brutal. I was reminded of those times when, as a kid, I had to get up while it was still dark outside, occasionally, to go on an outdoorsy excursion with a wizened family elder, like trout fishing with my uncle. I always enjoy the irregularity of these kinds of activities that punctuate an otherwise fairly predictable and comfortable existence.

Why was this an early morning? If you perused the Day 5 post, you may recall that we signed ourselves up for a bit of a kayak excursion between lunch and Part Two of the Mote Marine Aquarium adventure yesterday. That's why. We had to meet our kayak adventure guide, Scott, at a nearby nature preserve at 8:30 AM (actually, it got pushed back to 9 AM, but not before we had already gotten up). I blended up a couple smoothies in the food processor in the kitchen at Chez Goldberg before we departed, whilst Deborah readied herself.

It was "freezing cold" outside, by south Florida standards, at 50 degrees Fahrenheit or so. Deborah and her brother Mark both dressed in pants, long sleeved shirts, and jackets. I knew it would get warmer as the day went on and we'd be in the sun, so I wore shorts and sandals, Wisconsin-style, but still had on a warm jacket with a hat and gloves stashed in the pockets just in case I was being overly optimistic. I wasn't though.

The kayak trip lasted about two hours. It went completely to plan and was most enjoyable. The weather was perfect for seeing wildlife from the waterway, an inland river system. Said wildlife comprised many water fowl and almost as many large alligators - up close and personal. The tour guide was pleasant and knowledgeable and, most importantly not high strung. He would be a good Dudeist. I was completely satisfied with the outing, with the exception of cost. But I am a penny pincher and I know Scott, our guide, has to make a freelance living, so I have no real objection to the cost. It's not like rock band performances, where musicians are often expected to play for sweatshop wages. My expectations for the trip were met or exceeded on all counts.

Afterward, there were several hours of chillaxing, which included lunch at a quaint little vegan raw food restaurant in downtown Sarasota called Beauty of Sprouts. The vitalized food was guaranteed to ENERGIZE!!! And it did. I had a vegan burrito that was wrapped in a collard green leaf, augmented with a bowl of borscht and a vegan spring roll. I was totally ENERGIZED!!! for the rest of the afternoon. Deborah and I were joined by my parents and her brother and sister-in-law, Mark and Michelle. The latter two people are vegan. My folks are not, but as open-minded omnivores, they are adaptable to vegan options.

Mid-afternoon, the full complement of our two nuclear families piled into two cars and drove an hour to Ana Maria Island, where Mark and Michelle own a small house not far from a gloriously under-populated beach. We watched a decent sunset from said beach and then ate dinner at a wharfside Japanese restaurant down by the marina, before returning home to Chez Goldberg via the so-called Keyway (my word...it means a highway through the keys).

The End

More Pictures:


Tropical Vacay Day 5 - Mote Manatees

I have not taken many pictures on this trip. I will remedy that in tomorrow's post, but I think a good skill to develop is the ability to paint a picture with words. My current ability to do this is about that of a kindergartener going freestyle on a sheet of newsprint with a box of crayons, keeping with the art analogy; it's all over the place. So, in this post, I will try to metaphorically take some ritalin, keeping with the crayon-crazed toddler analogy.

Rising at a reasonable hour, we did something for breakfast. I don't remember what I ate, but I believe my wife Deborah concocted a frozen fruit and protein powder smoothie. I may have had that too, or I may have microwaved myself a couple of veggie burgers. In any case, I definitely sucked down a couple cups of Keurig processed coffee, cut with vanilla almond milk. I believe I also threw together the main ingredients for vegan key lime pie in the food processor. The night before, I had put the raw cashews in water to soak in the fridge overnight. Again, this is all hypothetical at this point. My hypothalamus and the other memory processing and storage parts of my brain appear to have been still asleep.

The morning's activity involved taking my parents to the Mote Marine Aquarium in downtown Sarasota. It's a cool place. I've been there before. There are two buildings on the aquarium grounds. One houses your standard fresh- and saltwater aquascapes. This was the one we visited in the morning, seeing coral reef fish, jellyfish, and freshwater fish, and petting stingrays. The second building houses marine mammals and reptiles, including manatees, sea turtles, alligators, and otters, at a minimum. I wanted to see the second building before we took a break for lunch, because I knew from experience that lunch breaks tend to kill ambition and motivation, but I was outvoted by the group, which included me, Deborah, Deborah's pops, and my mom and pops. We went to the Columbia Cuban restaurant nearby to eat. Deborah didn't much care for the place, but I thought it was alright, even though our waiter was a douchenozzle. They had a vegan paella on the docket, which Deborah and I split. After we ate, food comas began to kick in and my mom wanted to go take an afternoon nap, proving my point about punctuating daily activities with food breaks. Never do it! My dad and Deborah's dad also bailed on further Moting, so we took them all home. Upon dropping off Deborah's dad, we discovered that Deborah's brother, Mark, was willing and motivated to accompany Deborah and I back downtown to Mote building two, and he usurped Deborah's dad's still-valid ticket stub to this effect. Building two was even better than building one and we spent a decent amount of time there, scoping out the lumbering sea cows (manatees), sedate sea turtles, rambunctious otters, and caged alligators.

At the entrance to building one, in the morning, we had acquired a pamphlet about guided kayak tours offered by a 3rd party vendor associated with Mote. At some point, we had called said vendor and booked ourselves on a river kayak tour the following morning, early! I don't care about early morning adventures, but Deborah doesn't like them if they can be avoided. It was also forecast to be "freezing cold" in the morning, which for Florida means 50 degrees Fahrenheit...far from actual freezing, but this kind of temperature is terrifying to Floridians, even Mark, who once lived in Wisconsin. 50 degrees in January is balmy for Wisconsinites, but it's all relative. I knew I'd be fine in shorts and a light sweatshirt, but more on that in tomorrow's post.

The afternoon Mote excursion was followed by hot beverages at a vegan-friendly coffee shoppe, where we also purchased some putatively vegan cookies, the recipe for which I would love to know. We enjoyed a leisurely stay at the coffee shoppe before returning home to Chez Goldberg.

Deborah and I ate salad and veggie burgers for dinner, followed by slices of the homemade vegan key lime pie that I had apparently concocted that morning, then put in the freezer to set for a few hours during the day while we were at Mote. My folks didn't feel like coming over, so we ordered them a pizza, which we picked up and took to them at their hotel, along with a couple pieces of my key lime pie. Not to toot my own horn at all, but everyone said the key lime pie was great and HERE is the RECIPE I used if you want to try it (Note: Store bought graham cracker crust is usually vegan, and that's what I used rather than making my own crust.).

It was an action-packed, fun day.


Tropical Vacay Day 4 - First World Problems

We awoke this morning to a horrible discovery when we shuffled down the hall into the kitchen of Deborah's family's tropical abode (aka, Chez Goldberg). There was no more almond milk in the fridge! This fact put in serious jeopardy my carefully devised plan to make a cup o' joe in the Keurig machine and cut it with a shot of almond liebfraumilch, an oft sought after vegan beverage...to "take the edge off," as they say in the vernacular.

I had to come up with a solution fast, as I could already feel the caffeine-deprived neurons of my frontal cortex whispering of revolt, sending panicked rumors to my limbic system, which waxed dysthymic. I recalled how, two days prior, Deborah and I had sought refuge at a Starbucks coffee franchise not far from where we now stood befuddled and in crisis. High potency xanthines were mined and refined there with reproducibly high quality, and also could be cut with several available varieties of non-dairy creamer.* Deborah and I blazed an expedient trail across several city blocks in order to recruit some Starbucks barristas to my mission of preventing caffeine withdrawal symptoms.

Chemically stabilized, I was able to put my accelerated mind to the task of hunting and gathering existential essentials at the Publix grocery store across from the coffee shoppe. This expedition yielded a harvest of two prize jugs of the unsweetened Silk almond milk to take back to the tribe, as well as gravid bags of blue corn chips, scads of vegan-based meat substitutes, and a trove of Keurig Caribou Coffee Cartridges.

Back at camp, I sampled the catch of meatless burgers as a plan was hatched to have lunch at a downtown vegan restaurant called Lila's. Already we were looking ahead to where our next meal would come from.

Lila's proved to be a vegan paradise, where the needs of our tribe were accommodated as if we were Gods. Most places, the locals believe that our dietary habits can be satisfied with a few leaves of iceberg lettuce. This place provided the holiest of vegan gustatory sacrements.

After lunch, I felt compelled by the demigods, Health and Wellness, to "go walkabout." My legs carried me four miles through the concrete jungle to the temporary abode of my nuclear family, where I spent some quality time before returning to my adoptive tribe via an alternate route.

Dinner comprised vegan chili, an assortment of vegan simulated meat substitutes (predominantly soybean and wheat gluten based), and some snack-type sides.

After eating, the tribe gathered around the radiant obilisk and evaluated the predominant prophecies of the "talking heads" that appeared within it. The revelations of the seers were generally unfortunate and foreboding.

We slept.

*Note: I am referring to true non-dairy creamers, made from nut milks. In the conventional nomenclature, many creamers made for adding to coffee that are labeled "non-dairy" actually contain dairy derived additives, such as caseinate protein. It should not be legal, much less ethical, to call these dairy by-products non-dairy. They may be, technically, non-milk. But some of their ingredients definitely began their lives on a dairy farm.


Tropical Vacay Day 3 - More Eats

It's hard to eat a collective family meal when everyone in the family follows different, restrictive dietary habits. This problem was solved by Deborah, me, and our respective families by structuring a potluck, buffet style meal together today, where we each contributed dishes to share. At least one of the offered dishes met someone's dietary parameters. But more on that later in the post.

Today was, I believe, Monday of our tropical vacay week. We took it pretty easy. My highest level of activity occurred when I swam a few laps in the pool at Deborah's family's Sarasota house. I also spent some time visiting my folks. I could have boosted my activity a little more if I had walked the 1.5 miles over to my folks' hotel instead of driving the rental car there. That was an oversight on my part that was subsequently remedied, as you'll learn in the next post.

In any case, the day kind of got away from us. Before we knew it, it was dinner time. My folks came over to Deborah's folks' house and we threw together the aforementioned potluck. Deborah and I teamed up to make a veggie and tofu stir fry that was roughly coconut curry flavored and totally vegan. Deborah's brother and sister-in-law offered up their corn and black bean casserole, even more vegan. Her mom made rice - very vegan. There were some assorted snack chips thrown into the mix as well. It ended up being a decent feed. The nice thing about vegan food is that it's always omnivore friendly. The reverse is not always true.

After dinner we chatted a while. Eventually I returned my folks to their hotel and Deborah and I watched the first episode of the new season of "True Detective" before retiring.


Tropical Vacay Day 2 - Eats

We woke up at a decent hour. I don't recall what hour it actually was, but the day definitely had not gotten away from us by the looks of it. Deborah's family was up and about when we exited the guest room of their house, where we are staying. My first order of business was to make the Keurig coffee machine in the kitchen squirt some blackened, caffeinated, hot water into a mug. Successful, I then mixed a small quantity of almond milk into said liquid and drank it. Over the course of the next little while, I manufactured fruit smoothies for, initially, Deborah and myself, and subsequently everyone. I am not used to making food on such a large scale, so it took some effort to get their blender to cooperate with my attempts to turn frozen chunks of fruit into a drinkable breakfast beverage. Ultimately, we came to an understanding, but not before the blender had produced much noise and a mild ozone odor in protest.

I took the rental car over to the nearby hotel where my parents were staying and ferried them back to Deborah's family's Sarasota house. There ensued substantial poolside "relly rallying," and a plan was eventually hatched to find a beach to deposit ourselves on for some sedentary inactivity. That happened. Said beach was on a sandbar-ish island along the coast of Sarasota called Siesta Key, reachable by car and causeway.

Vitamin D levels amply boosted after a couple hours of this, we returned to Casa del Goldbergs by way of lunch at a seaside bar and grill. The vegan options there were limited to about three items on the menu, and I ordered them all. The rice and beans were as described...white rice and black beans. The French fries were within specifications. The salad was sub par, mainly because it mostly lacked flavorful ingredients, and the dried cranberries had an aftertaste of cigarette butts for whatever reason. On the bright side, we saw some dolphins out in the channel that ran alongside the establishment, which was fun.

After lunch, my folks felt like returning to their hotel to rest. Deborah and I drove them back in the rental car and then found a Starbucks coffee shoppe nearby to decompress and debrief at for a short while by ourselves. We noticed there was a Publix grocery store across the street and went there to pick up a handful of staples we knew we could gnosh on between episodes of vacation fun over the next few days.

Arriving back at the family homestead, Deborah took a bit of a lie down whilst I coordinated dinner options with my folks by phone. Deborah's mom recommended a casual fish restaurant nearby and it proved a fruitful (and fishful) option. Whenever my family travels, we seek out "best value" dining options (big portions of quality food at a budget price), which we refer to as the "Bud's Principle," named after a restaurant in Sanibel FL called Bud's that met the best value criteria outlined above. This establishment we patronized today, called KaCey's Seafood and More, met the metric too, making it the "Bud's of Sarasota." My mom had a nice slab of grilled mahi mahi and my dad got a delectable-looking cod florentine dish. As tempting as it was to eat some fish, I adhered to my vegan diet and ordered side dishes: steamed broccoli, rice pilaf, and French fries. Conventional, carb-loaded, and unexciting as these foodstuffs typically are, this restaurant prepared them about as well as could be expected.

Folks fed, I ferried them back to their hotel before returning to Chez Goldberg to check on Deborah and wind down for the evening. Deborah was fully power napping when I peeked in on her in the guest bedroom. She rallied and we retired to the family room to eat blue corn chips, chat with her family, and watch a BBC nature program narrated by (who else?) David Attenborough before bedtime proper.


Tropical Vacay Day 1 - Mystery Shopper: Mystery Airline

I'm in the Madison WI airport, sitting beside my awesome wife Deborah and preparing to board a non-stop flight to Tampa FL on an airline called Sun Country. This air carrier only recently began offering tropical escapism services to south central Wisconsin and this is my first interaction with them. Thus, it's an excellent opportunity to review and rate my air travel experience in their care.

Check in was smooth. No line. This may have been due to the fact that we arrived at the airport butt-early due to concern that Donald Trump's government shutdown might adversely clusterf*ck TSA security protocol (it did not, and high praise for the unpaid TSA workers for showing up to work in spite of a Constitutional Crisis). The Sun Country staff were very nice.

Our flight appears to be on time. Arriving in the concourse plenty early, we had time to drink caffeinated beverages and process them through our kidneys and bladders before boarding the plane.


All went to plan. The longest delays encountered during the rest of our journey were self-inflicted, having nothing to do with any of the transportation vendors involved in today's travels. We are now safely to our destination of Sarasota FL, from whence most of our ensuing adventures will begin.

Sun Country gets top marks as an air transit provider. Compare it's six (6) friendly flight attendants on a not-even-completely-full Boeing 737 flight with the (at most) two surly staff on other packed-to-the-gills commercial airline flights.


Tropical Vacay Eve

It's Tropical Vacay Eve. Tropical Vacay is a holiday that generally falls some time between mid-January and early February, depending on the year. It's only observed by a small number of people - mainly me and my wife...sometimes other family members - and generally limited to a small geographical region where palm tree habitat is prolific.

Tropical Vacay Eve, of course, is the day before Tropical Vacay, which starts tomorrow (or more likely today, by the time you are reading this). This year's holiday takes place on the Gulf coast of south Florida. Stay tuned for a travelogue.


Happy New Year

Have a happy 2019.

I ended 2018 performing a rock show with a band at a ski resort lodge in the Wisconsin Dells. It was made more enjoyable by the fact that my lovely wife Deborah was able to join me for it. Adverse weather made getting to the gig a challenge, but once there everything went to plan, notwithstanding a few minor bass biffs.* The inclement weather had cleared and the snow plows had done their duty by the time the show ended and we headed back to Madison.

Given the fact that we ate (albeit cheeseless) pizza at the ski lodge and a bag of potato chips between us on the car ride, I was surprised to find my weight stable at 199 pounds this morning, after a solid night (and half day) of sleep. That made one of my resolutions for 2019 all the more realistic and achievable (2019 resolutions post coming soon), namely to maintain a healthy body weight.

I'm off to a good start and I hope you are too. Leave a comment below about your New Year celebrations and how the year is starting off for you.

*Note: I was subbing on bass for the band's regular bass player, who broke his hand. So, I had to learn a pantload of songs expediently, and there was a margin of error. But it was minimal.